Mustang Sally's was decked out in red, white and blue for the Independence Day holiday last week, but the restaurant and pub hasn't always had such a wholesome, all-American air.
The building, at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 136 in Abingdon, used to be the Bush Valley Inn, known to locals as a "knife and gun" place for rowdy bikers and other rough sorts.
Don Marino, the new manager, and his wife Michele, the new owner, can still point to old bullet holes in the front window. He plans to get the window fixed once the restaurant and pub gets going, he said.
In January, the former owner of the Bush Valley Inn, Giovanni Rivieri, 61, was convicted in Harford Circuit Court on charges of solicitation to commit mayhem and two counts of solicitation to commit assault and battery.
The Marinos have gone to great lengths to change the establishment's past reputation and look.
Mr. Marino said he spent more money renovating and decorating the place, which opened May 26, then he did buying it. The first thing Mr. Marino did was to add several windows and fill the dining room and bar with light.
The pale blue dining room, which seats 100, has a plush carpet and pretty floral wallpaper border. This is a far cry from the dark knotty pine paneling that lined the walls, he said.
"We spent a fortune alone on Sheetrock," he said.
To encourage patrons into the bar, Mr. Marino has installed a "karaoke" sing-along sound system.
Karaoke, Japanese for "without voice," is the latest entertainment trend, a space-age version of Mitch Miller's follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-alongs. The lead vocal is stripped from a soundtrack, allowing amateurs to sing along via microphone as the music is played in the background and the words are flashed on an electronic screen.
Mr. Marino, 38, said he took a chance on the location but was hopeful because of the changing demographics of the area. The area is booming with new homes for middle-class wage earners.
"This is the kind of place people can feel comfortable bringing their children, or office workers could come here for lunch," he said.
For example, the restaurant has an inexpensive children's menu with hot dogs and other children's favorites.
He said he was certain he had made the right decision when he learned that a fast-food restaurant would be opening in the under-construction Riverside shopping center about a mile away.
"You know you've made a good move if a McDonald's is going up nearby," he said. He said McDonald's typically opens in growing areas with high visibility and a booming population. "Now if I could only see a 7-Eleven open," he joked.
And, if there is room for McDonald's, there is more than enough room for a white-tablecloth establishment that caters to hungry families who want more than a fast-food menu, he said.
Mustang Sally's is surrounded by single-family homes and farmland. And while the area may lack the commercialization of U.S. 40, which runs roughly parallel to Route 7, the road has become increasingly well traveled as a "short-cut" for folks moving between Abingdon and Bel Air.
The business, which serves beer and wine, employs about 20 people and is open daily. The bar, which also serves food, has a state-of-the-art jukebox which holds about 100 albums on compact discs.
For the future, Mr. Marino said he wants to get a liquor license -- now he serves beer and wine -- and said he would like to build a screened porch for outside dining.
Mustang Sally's also has a private dining room for business meetings or wedding rehearsal dinners.
Mr. Marino grew up in Rosedale but has lived in Bel Air for the last six years.
He said he got started in the "bar business" 18 years ago, when he helped his uncle run the Kenwood Bar in Rosedale. He has been managing bars and restaurants since then; Mustang Sally's is the first he has owned.
He said he and his wife had been looking for a restaurant site for three years when they settled on the Bush Valley Inn.
DTC "When we finally bought the property, it was the answer to our prayers," he said.
The name comes from a song made popular by rhythm-and-blues singer Wilson Pickett in the mid-60s. He said originally his wife and he had wanted a nostalgia theme based on the cars from the 50s and 60s.
So far, that look has been confined to the bar area with plenty of pictures of 60s-style cars.